Although it is just two games into the season, sophomore goalies Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan have given the University of Maine men’s hockey team reason for some early optimism.
Ouellette made seven Grade-A saves among his 25 in a 2-1 loss to Merrimack, and Sullivan made 14 Grade-A’s among his 24 in a 6-3 win over Northeastern University.
“Our goalies have have taken a good step,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They paid the price over the summer to be stronger and quicker. The experience they gained last year has helped.”
“They both played very well,” agreed Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill. “Both of them saved a breakaway.”
“They both looked very good,” said Black Bear senior left wing and assistant captain Spencer Abbott.
They had both played well in Maine’s 7-3 exhibition win over New Brunswick as Sullivan made 12 saves on 14 shots and Ouellette turned away 16 of 17 shots.
Sullivan was 10-7-2 with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage last year. He was chosen to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. He set a Maine record for consecutive shutout minutes (202:38). He missed seven games in the second half of the season with a knee injury, returned and put together his record-setting shutout streak but struggled down the stretch as he allowed 17 goals in his last four starts.
He posted three shutouts.
Ouellette was also bothered by injury and appeared in just nine games, posting a 3-3-2 record, a 3.18 GAA and an .862 save percentage. He had one shutout.
His last appearance in the 2010-2011 season came on Feb. 7.
O’Neill was impressed with the play of the freshman line of John Parker between Andrew Cerretani and Connor Leen.
They generated eight shots on goal during the two games and did not allow a goal.
He said their line played with a “lot of energy” and gave the team an important lift.
“They did a good job on the forecheck. A lot of freshmen were goal scorers in juniors and were their teams’ top players. They’re not used to doing the dirty work,” said O’Neill referring to finishing checks, battling for pucks along the boards and in the corners and back-checking with purpose.
He said Parker, Leen and Cerretani all turned in gritty, hard-working performances and exhibited a good fundamental knowledge of the systems.
Another freshman, Stu Higgins, made his debut against Northeastern as he replaced the injured Klas Leidermark (hip flexor). Higgins centered a line between senior Theo Andersson and sophomore Mark Anthoine.
“He did a good job five-on-five and killing penalties in Klas’ place,” said Whitehead.
Leidermark’s place on the second power-play unit was taken by senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty.
Hegarty supplied a net-front presence on the power play.
“He had a great presence up there,” said Whitehead. “We’re a little small up front and we needed someone like Ryan there. And he delivered on short notice.”
Maine’s 12 forwards average out to 5-foot-10, 179 pounds with Leidermark in the lineup and 5-10, 177 ½ pounds with Higgins in there.
But Northeastern University coach Jim Madigan said the Bears compensate for their lack of size with their speed.
“They’re a small, fast team that applies pressure to the puck, and they do that really well,” said Madigan. “They buzzed our defensemen. You have to get back quickly to move the puck. They really did a good job sealing the weak side so their defensemen can keep the puck in the (offensive) zone. They bottled us up in our own zone a little bit more than we wanted them to do. They’re well-coached, disciplined and thorough in their approach.”
SOLDIERS, FAMILIES HONORED
Prior to the Northeastern game on Sunday afternoon, the university honored the family members of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The family members came out on to the ice, the color guard presented the colors and the families received a nice ovation from the 3,798 on hand. Veterans and current members of the armed services in the crowd were also asked to stand and be recognized and applauded.
“In the Bangor community, the military is very much a part of our lives. It has become a great tradition here to honor the military at least once a year, if not twice, with a special day,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “(The fallen soldiers) made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us. We had a real nice pregame reception and had a postgame reception to give them a chance to meet our players. It was a great day.”